SKATE-A-THON

I’d stood up to my father when he ordered me off the ice. Why didn’t my brothers stand up to him when ordered to get me off the ice?

The summer I was ten, my picture appeared in the Las Vegas Review Journal newspaper. Of all the figure skaters at the Ice Palace, I’d been chosen to pose in front of a popular local anchorman, his hands on my shoulders. But I was the focus of that picture, featured in a story about the first-ever upcoming skate-a-thon to raise money for children with muscular dystrophy, scheduled to take place on Labor Day Weekend. In addition to skating amongst the general public for twenty-four hours, I would also be performing a solo on freshly-Zambonied ice after one of the breaks.

This was 1974, when Jerry Lewis was in the height of his fame as the creator and host of the annual Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, which also took place in Las Vegas, every Labor Day weekend. And at age ten, I hated Jerry Lewis. As if Labor Day weekend, the official end of summer and fun and freedom weren’t bad enough, here was this hysterical, sweaty, middle-aged man, year after year screaming for everyone to give money to his kids — what about all the kids with other diseases, Jerry? — and interrupting my beloved Sunday night TV lineup, Wonderful World of Disney and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom in the process. Regardless, I was going to skate for Jerry’s kids. That’s who I was: A Skater.

I collected two pages worth of pledges to raise money to help Jerry’s Kids. The music I’d chosen for my solo skating performance, Georgy Girl, was in honor of my father, George. Sports was the language of love with him, as far as I could tell at age ten. He shared hours at a time with my two older brothers, watching football and baseball on TV, and attending their hockey games. Between their hockey and my figure skating, my brothers and I practically grew up in the Ice Palace, in Commercial Center. We knew all the parents of all the other kids who skated at the Ice Palace, as well as the owners, the Carlow family.

For the skate-a-thon, I wore a dress that I’d designed, sewn by Mrs. Palmer, the mother of my instructor, Lori (her brother Rick played hockey with my brothers). Mrs. Palmer made everybody’s skating outfits. It was my favorite color, burgundy, with cap sleeves, and a faux bodice over a white eyelet underlay. I got the idea from one of the Pirates of the Caribbean characters on the Disneyland ride.

The event began at 7am, and the rink was packed. The Zamboni came out every hour at first, but the later it got, the less people returned to the resurfaced ice, the Zamboni returned with decreasing frequency. I skated through the day and night, fueled by pride, adrenaline, and concession stand hot dogs.

At midnight, it was time. The opening notes of an all-instrumental version of Georgy Girl came over the loud speaker. I played to the people who would one day fill the highest balcony seats, once I made it to the Olympics. For two and a half minutes, all eyes were on me, spinning, leaping, soaring. I ruled the world.

My mother, who had been there for the first several hours, returned just before 11:30pm to watch me perform. Though she’d pleaded with my father to change his schedule, he wasn’t able to do so, as it was next to impossible for him to take time off from his job at the Las Vegas Hilton during a holiday weekend.

After I finished, she told me she needed to get some sleep, but would be back at 7am. There were still a number of familiar faces there, including Mrs. Carlow, so she knew it was safe to leave me.

Each passing hour grew longer, my legs heavier, my eyes more tired. There were now so few people on the ice that I could count them all. Much as I hated to cover my amazing dress, I was getting cold, and got my burgundy warmup jacket out of my locker, wishing I’d brought the matching pants as well. I was paying attention to the clock more and more, wishing 7am would come already.

At 5am, my father surprised me by showing up. I was so happy that he wanted to witness me skate into the final, twenty-fourth hour. What was more surprising was that my brothers were right behind him. Since when did they want to watch me do anything?

As I skated closer to him, it wasn’t pride I saw on his face. On any of their faces.

“Get off the ice. No daughter of mine going to spend all night out alone.”

“What do you mean alone? Mrs. Carlow’s right over there. You’re here.”

“Get off the ice.”

“Just watch me skate, there’s only two hours left.”

“Get off the goddamn ice.”

“No.”

I retreated to the safety of the ice, where I felt untouchable. When I reached the end of the rink and pivoted into some back crossovers, I thought for a moment I was imagining things: my brothers walking toward me on the ice in their sneakers. Despite the look on their faces that told me otherwise, I clung to the hope that they were coming to stand with me in solidarity, to take my side in defiance of our father. Instead, each one grabbed one of my arms. I struggled to get away, but I was cornered. They lifted me and carried me off the ice, kicking and screaming the whole way to the car.

I’d stood up to my father when he ordered me off the ice. Why didn’t my brothers stand up to him when ordered to get me off the ice? They were older than me, bigger than me, stronger than me. They were boys.

We drove home in silence. I slammed the front door, which woke up my mother. My father told her I needed come home for breakfast and then I could go back. But she knew what completing the skate-a-thon meant to me, and she flew into a rage. As her only daughter, my dreams were her dreams. And he’d killed this one.

My mother drove me back to skate the final hour. But when we got there, I couldn’t get back on the ice. I knew that I didn’t belong with the four skaters who had skated since the start, and who were about to complete all twenty-four hours of the Ice Palace’s first ever Skate-a-thon.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store